Sri Lanka - formally known as Ceylon - is an island south of India in the Indian Ocean. The island is home to many cultures, languages and races. Most of the people living in Sri Lanka are from the Sinhalese ethnicity, while a large minority of Tamils have also played a role in the rich history of this island.
Thats about all I knew before I bought the tickets :). So as you can see, I left for Sri Lanka highly educated ;)
I don't know if you guys ever heard of Couchsurfing - its a community for cultural exchange and meeting up with new people. They provide a place to sleep and in exchange you spend time together. I wanted to couch surf in Sri Lanka but realized that as a female solo traveler its not as easy as I thought. Most times I had the feeling the guys had other things in mind so I decided to stay in Hostels instead when Ruwani (get to know this girl here) wrote me. And that was the start of a wonderful friendship. She's such a friendly natured, outgoing, humorous, adventurous and caring soul, she made my first days in Sri Lanka perfect. But let me tell you - getting to her place was an utter nightmare :D. First things first - when I got to the airport I bought a Sri Lankan Sim Card. Easy. Taking the airport bus to the center of Colombo wasn't too bad either. I got my own seat as did my backpack and I paid the same price as everyone else. So far so good :)
Colombo central station is packed. With packed I don't mean a few more cars than normal but just way too busy - people, busses, tuk tucks, everything and everywhere. Ruwani told me to take the Bus 138 towards her place, she even drew me a map and everything, so what could possible go wrong. Well...how about not finding the bus. I walked around for it felt like hours asking around. Blonde girl, huge backpack, lost in the crowd - the perfect target for the predator called Tuk Tuk driver :D. They laid the trap and I jumped right into it. So instead of paying 50 Rupee (thats about 30 cent) for taking the bus I paid 1000 Rupee (around 5 Euro) for taking the Tuk Tuk. Welcome to Sri Lanka :).
That being said, the next thing I had to survive was the traffic better known as hell on earth. Hard to imagine how I managed but somehow my driver avoided all known traffic rules and still arrived at Ruwanis. I call it a miracle.
First thing I did there was asking Ruwani to teach me some easy sentences to get by with. That has been the best idea ever because it made my travels through Sri Lanka way easier. She taught me how to say simple things like Hello and goodbye, thank you and please but also things like "How much does it cost", "I want to go to...", "I don't have money" and "I don't need that". On Monday Ruwani dropped my off at a hair salon (Salon Liyo) where I got my hair permanent straightened. I had it done once in Borneo and they did such a good job that I wanted to do it again. They were a bit insecure about how to treat a foreigner not speaking their language but they were very friendly and worked hard to meet the train schedule. I wanted to go to Kandy the same afternoon but the last train left by 5. I got to the train station on time but buying a ticket is another thing so end of the story: The train to Kandy left without me. Thanks to my new language skills I was able to get rid of the Tuk Tuk Driver who wanted to take me to Kandy ("6500 Rupee, special price for my best friend") and asking for busses to Kandy at the same time. Taking the bus was easy peasy then - I arrived in Kandy late at night, called my hostel because they were already closed and got a very nice and comfy room.
The next day I took a private Tuk Tuk driver who drove me up north towards Sigirya, an ancient rock fortress in the Central province of Sri Lanka. They say it was selected by King Kasyapa as a new capital, so he build his palace on top of the rock. One can still see the foundation walls. On a small plateau half way up the side of the rock there is a lions paw, meant to be a gateway. The name of this place is derived from this structure - Sīhāgiri, the lion rock. The capital was abandoned after the kings death and used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Since 1982 Sigirya is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning (Source: Wikipedia).
Back in Kandy I used the last rays of sun to stroll through the city. Kandy is the former capital of Sri Lanka and thanks to its altitude its not as hot as in Colombo. As the capital, Kandy had come home to the relic of the tooth of Buddha which can be seen in the Palace of the Tooth Relict (Well, you can't actually see it but they say its there ;)). The artificial Kandy lake in the heart of Kandy was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. All in all, I have to admit, I didnt get the hang of Kandy so I was looking forward to take the famous train ride to Ella the next morning. Smart as I am I wanted to buy the ticket on that evening so I went to the train station just to have the guy there tell me, that they don't have tickets left and I should come back early the next morning in the hope they'll have some tickets. Did I mention that everyone said I HAVE TO TAKE THE TRAIN TO ELLA BECAUSE ITS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING TO DO? Yeah, you might know now how I felt when he told me I might not be able to take the train.
New day, new luck. I went to the train station super early and got my ticket, phew. Apparently there was meant to be a strike so thats why they didn't sell tickets the night before. So what can I say...Everyone was right about the need to take the train instead of the bus or a car. Its the most beautiful and picturesque train ride I've ever done. And here comes the problem: I could fill the rest of the page with thousands of pictures and videos. But then I wouldn't be able to talk about Arugam Bay and Unawatuna and Colombo. So what I'm going to do is the following. I choose a few pictures and if you want to see more...oh wait..I do a slide show...its up to you if you want to go through it all :)! On the right two pictures from Ella. I didn't have enough time (well...wrong here. I didn't take! enough time) to stay in Ella for long and thats something I definitely will do when I'm back because its a very beautiful area.
Welcome to Paradise - Arugam Bay
But yes, my final destination was Arugam Bay, a surf spot on the east coast of Sri Lanka. The plan was to spend my birthday at the beach hence why I planned my trip accordingly and why I didn't take as much time to explore Ella as I should have. Long story short: I arrived in Arugam Bay a night prior to my birthday so everything worked out the way I wanted to. Apart from accommodation :). I found a good looking place at AirBnB called "East Surf Cabanas" but unfortunately I couldn't book from Thursday to Sunday but just from Friday to Sunday. So I ended up booking an alternative hostel for one night. When I got there I it didn't take long though to realize that I wouldn't stay there - dirty bed sheets, a moldy smell not to mention the bath room. So I took a SOS call and asked Raffaella from East Surf Cabanas, if by any chance another guest cancelled. Happy birthday to me, they had a lovely room ready for me so I could move places. And thats when I arrived in paradise. The East Surf Cabanas wow'ed me. Very clean, very detailed, Raffaella and Sudu are grand, its close to the beach, they serve lovely breakfast and its a bit outside of town so you're not in the midst of other tourists. The first night I stayed in the terrace room, situated at the end of the garden on a sandy slope, giving the room a lovely view of the garden, the distant palm trees and the surrounding area. The next day I swapped rooms and stayed in the Tree house until Sunday, a very unique 'open space' first floor room with a balcony with views over the surrounding area. What I loved most about this one has been the open ceiling shower and that you could see the ocean. Because its been such a pleasure to stay with Raffaella and Sudu I pushed my luck and asked to stay another night until Monday. But all good with them, I even had the chance to try out a Cabana. This one was great because the shower was outside and had a palm tree growing there. I could keep going about Arugam Bay - the lovely beach, my surf lesson (I managed to catch a few waves, task accomplished but I think thats it with me and surfing, I'll never become a pro :D), the spectacular Jungle BBQ organized by Sudu from East Surf Cabanas where we'v seen wild crocodiles and monkey and were attacked by an elephant....and further more. But I let the pictures tell the story ;)
Are you tired yet of all the text and pictures?
I have two more parts of my journey left, the south coast and a weekend in Colombo. Maybe you should take a break, get a kitkat and get comfy again for.....
Southeast Coast of Sri Lanka - Unawatuna Beach and Galle
Unawatuna...what can I say about yet another beautiful stretch of beach with white sand, crystal clear water, no other tourists around (apparently I was lucky because its been low season)...?! Nothing. I stayed at another AirBnB place called Whitemanor (Studio Flat) with Nimal. Everyone around his area knows him so it wasn't hard to find his place. The flat was very spacious with its own kitchen area, an open ceiling shower (thats seems to be a thing in Sri Lanka) and a huge bed. The flat is a bit dark so reading a book wasnt as easy but Nimal provided a bed site lamp therefore problem solved. Reaching the beach was fairly easy too, just a five minute walk to Unawatuna and about 10 min to the even more beautiful beach of Dalawella.
The nearest city to Unawatuna Beach is Galle. It was known as Gimhathiththa before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, when it was the main port on the island. Galle reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period. Galle is the best example of a fortified city built by the Portuguese in South and Southeast Asia, showing the interaction between Portuguesearchitectural styles and native traditions. The city was extensively fortified by the Dutch during the 17th century from 1649 onwards. The Galle fortis a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers (Source: Wikipedia).
A weekend in Colombo
Because I left Colombo in a rush at the begin of my journey I decided to spend the last few days in Sri Lankas capital. Its a very diverse and surprisingly green city. I loved the streets that were lined by huge Banyan Trees and I felt like in the midst of the jungle (well..not exactly but I didn't feel like being in metropole either, lets put it this way ;)). Colombo has a rich culture and of course, I could tell you all about it, using my best friend Wikipedia and my travel journey but I think you were really busy bees reading it all until here, so I don't want to tease you any further.
I keep it short and sweet :)
Colombo is the commercial capital and largest city of Sri Lanka. According to the Brookings Institution, Colombo metropolitan area has a population of 5.6 million. It is the financial centre of the island and a popular tourist destination. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to the Greater Colombo area which includes Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, the legislative capital of Sri Lanka and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. Colombo is often referred to as the capital since Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is within the urban area of, and a suburb of, Colombo. It is also the administrative capital of Western Province, Sri Lanka and the district capital of Colombo District. Colombo is a busy and vibrant place with a mixture of modern life and colonial buildings and ruins.
Due to its large harbour and its strategic position along the East-West sea trade routes, Colombo was known to ancient traders 2,000 years ago. It was made the capital of the island when Sri Lanka was ceded to the British Empire in 1815, and its status as capital was retained when the nation became independent in 1948. In 1978, when administrative functions were moved to Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, Colombo was designated as the commercial capital of Sri Lanka.
Gangaramaya Temple is one of the most important temples in Colombo. The temple's architecture demonstrates an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. The Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park) is an urban park located next to the National Museum of Colombo and the Town Hall. It is the oldest and largest park in Colombo and features a large Buddha statue. As part of the Urban Regeneration Program of the Government of Sri Lanka, many old sites and buildings were revamped to modern public recreational spaces and shopping precincts. These include Independence Memorial Hall Square, Pettah Floating Market and Old Dutch Hospital among others. (Source: Wikipedia)
And with that I say: Thank you for staying that long and for reading it all. I hope it'll help if you make your way to Sri Lanka (as you should, I totally recommend it!)